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Tuesday, 7 April 2020


One of my earliest memories is of going to watch Tottenham with my dad, when I was around five or six. I remember we got beaten 2-0 at home by Blackburn, back when Blackburn were good. I remember the Creme Egg that my dad bought me, and struggling with the fiddly bits of silver foil. I remember asking what would happen if nobody scored a goal, and being confused and even a little bit angry that such a thing as a nil-nil draw was possible. Barring a period of a few years as a punk-obsessed teen, I have been a keen Spurs supporter, and a follower of football in general, ever since.

And yet one of the things I am discovering during the current, indefinite footballing hiatus is how little I really miss football, especially Premier League football, and especially Tottenham.

I don't miss the dismal predictability of the same handful of teams winning every week, and I don't miss the cloying stink of filthy lucre permeating said teams.

I don't miss the limp disappointment of defeat, or the fleeting joy of victory.

I don't miss the endless false dawns and the knowledge that, unless Spurs are bought by Kuwait or something, they will ultimately always be unable really to compete.

I don't miss the sense of underachievement that clings to the club like the smell of wet dog.

I don't miss referring to the team as 'we', despite the knowledge that I personally played no part whatsoever in whatever happened on the pitch. Or maybe, if I was at the match, I did play a part by dint of helping fill the club's coffers, in which case why did I bother in the first place?

And I don't miss the cyclical nature of it all; the fact that the same process gets enacted every week, like Samsara, yet never ultimately arriving at any higher purpose. You lose one week? You feel shit, but hey - there is always the next week to get excited about. You win the following week? You feel good, but ultimately, well, so fucking what? What is the purpose of it all? Defeat bleeds into victory, which bleeds into defeat again, and on and on, until the end of the season. Until it all starts up again.

Death and rebirth. Death and rebirth.

Just as the soul yearns for nirvana, for freedom from the cycle of reincarnation, I am discovering that I can do perfectly well, thank you very much, without football.

When it all starts up again, I'm sure I will watch it. I'm sure I will be unreasonably pissed off when 'we' lose, and momentarily happy when 'we' win. But the whole thing seems to have become shrouded in a fog of futility I never previously knew was there, and I'm not sure whether, for me, that will ever really disappear now I am aware of it.

Monday, 6 April 2020


I recently promoted a new writing idea, based on my poem Never, which you can read here. After having listened to the poem, I challenged children to come up with their own versions. They didn't have to rhyme (although they could if they wanted), but each line should start with 'Never...'. The challenge was then to think of some weird, exotic, crazy things that one should NEVER do. I am delighted to say that many children at Christ Church Ainsworth school decided to give this a go. I am honoured to be able to share their poems here, along with some poems from kids at other schools. Enjoy! (and why not give it a go yourself? It's very fun)

Thursday, 2 April 2020


One bedroom flat
And there’s nowhere to run
Looking through the window
At the smirking sun
Fifth cup of coffee
And a row with the wife
Welcome everybody to
Lockdown Life

Check the latest figures
Like a football match
Hunt for more info
Search for the stats
Identity reduced
To Tweets and Likes
Come one and all to
Lockdown Life

Heart palpitations
At the morning news
Just had my lunch
Is it too early for booze?
Precariously balanced
On the blade of a knife
Hey everybody it’s
Lockdown Life 

Try to read a novel
But the words fall flat
New Instagram account
And a picture of the cat
Try to get a handle
But the thoughts run rife
Hear ye! Hear ye!
Lockdown Life

Hands reach out
Is there anybody there?
Writing down these words
But does anybody care?
A bird’s flight forming
In the mind’s small eye
Ain’t nothing there but
Lockdown Life

Wednesday, 1 April 2020


I am very privileged to be teaming up with Love Reading 4 Kids to offer an exciting online poetry workshop. You can watch the video here:

Yesterday Abi (age 10) got in touch with a fantastic poem she had written, based on my workshop. Here is Abi's wonderful poem:

Freedom of the Orange by Abigail Marks aged 10

Orange of Freedom

Orange of life

Orange of wonder and

Orange of magic

Orange of the world

Orange of music

Orange of talent

Orange of opening the door

Orange of the sunset makes you feel warm

Orange of the ocean

Orange of the sun going behind you

Orange of the tree you fall from.

But it doesn't end there! Abi's mum Ros also gave it a go, proving that poetry can be enjoyed at any age. Here is Ros's fan piece:

Apple of my Eye  by Ros Marks - aged too old to say

Your blossom envelopes me like a blanket of love
White and pink, so delicate are your features.
I am sad when you are blown from me,
Gone for another year.
I will wait, for you are my love.

I will wait for you.
Wait for you.
Wait for you

The weather cools with autumns arrival.
I marvel at your beauty once more.
Red, pink, green.  Big, small, round.
You tease me with your beauty.

I will wait, for you are my love.
I will wait for you.
Wait for you.
Wait for you.

Each day I watch with bated breath.
Your majestic branches holding your fruit
Like a mother holding a baby.
I watch you grow with ever increasing anticipation.

I will wait, for you are my love.
I will wait for you.
Wait for you.
Wait for you.

At last you are ready to leave the protection of your branch.
I catch you in my outstretched hands.
Gently I hold you, as I savour the moment.
My mouth watering with anticipation.

I could wait no longer to taste your juiciness.
And then you are gone.

Tuesday, 31 March 2020


The poem above is published in my latest book, Welcome To My Crazy Life (Bloomsbury). The other day I set a challenge on Twitter. I shared the poem, and encouraged children to come up with poems using their own 'silly similes'. I didn't set any more rules, I just waited to see what weird and wonderful ideas would results. I am delighted to say that many children got in touch with their own poems, and I am honoured to be able to share some up the results!

First up is Ashlynn, age 12, from Wisconsin USA:

Wonderful stuff! Next up is Ashlynn's sister Brooklynn, age 10:

Next, please give a big round of applause for Anna, age 9:

And let's hear it for Henry, age 7:

Let's hear it for Liberty, age 10!

And finally, a great big cheer for Lincoln, age 10. 

Silly Similes

As heavy as a flea,
As round as a box,
As as big as a pea,
As dumb as a fox.

As tasty as sand,
As square as a mule,
As quiet as a band,
As smart as a fool.

As flat as a ball,
As hot as ice,
As quiet as a call,
As giant as rice.

As friendly as a foe,
As tiny as a book,
As black as snow, 
As blunt as a hook.

As handsome as a squint,
As dry as the sea,
As slow as a sprint,
As boring as me.

Saturday, 28 March 2020



At the current time it feels like every author and their dog are producing videos that are then being widely disseminated through social media. I therefore felt I had little option but to give it a go myself. The video above is entitled 'I Wanna Be a Bear', and contains a poem that is forthcoming in my book called Yapping Away, due to be published by Bloomsbury in 2021. After I perform the poem, I ask the audience: if they could be any animal, what would they be and what would they do? I'm delighted to say that several teachers got in touch with examples of students' responses to the poem, several of which I am now delighted to share. 

Here is 'I Wanna Be a Bee' by Ryan, in Year 6:

I think Ryan's use of rhyme of rhythm in this poem is really special. Next up is 'I Wanna Be an Eagle by Alex W (Year 6):

And finally we have 'I Wanna Be a Snake'. Unfortunately no name was supplied with this poem, but I love it nonetheless:

Thursday, 26 March 2020


They tell me that now
is a good time for writing.

They say that 
with all this empty time

what is better or more natural
than for a writer to write?

What they don’t know
is that I’m too busy to try. 

I’m far too busy
refreshing the page

on how many have died.
As I lie awake on the sofa

for half the night
I’m actually very busy,

tangled up with the knowledge
that next might be my turn

to feel the loss
of something real. 

So as I lie here, 
the months stretching out

into fields of nothing, 
I’m really far too busy

for writing.

Monday, 23 March 2020


The first thing to note is that this is a selfish blog post. At this time there are people all around the world doing amazing things: saving lives, looking after the most vulnerable, alleviating suffering and generally keeping things ticking along. Writing a blog post about how I am feeling seems more than a little self-indulgent. However, I feel unable to do too much else at present.

Basically I feel scared. I guess that's what a pandemic will do to you. I even feel scared writing this blog post. I feel under pressure to come up with something unique and interesting, and to express myself in a way that resonates profoundly with other people. I feel pressurized to create content that is going to go viral, and I am disconcerted that this should have taken on such significance for me. My primary way of interacting with the outside world is now via social media, and I can already feel myself starting to measure my self-worth in retweets and likes, and even to kid myself that these are valid substitutes for actually earning the money that will enable me to pay the bills.

Of course, I am worried about paying the bills as well. I am scared that the career I have built up over the last decade is unraveling in a way I cannot control. Furthermore, I look around and I see other writers, performers and freelancers seemingly starting to do interesting, innovative things involving the internet and technology, and I feel angry at myself for being unable to pivot in this direction at the drop of a hat. My career as a visiting poet in schools is supposed to be based on nothing more than my voice and my pen, and it began as a very slow-burning affair as I built up contacts and a reputation, and developed my writing. Now it feels like I am expected to change my whole approach overnight, and this feels scary. Normally I am pretty good at not comparing myself to others, but at this time it feels impossible not to, and I feel like I am being left behind, choking on mouthfuls of seawater as others surge ahead on speedboats. I have no idea how I am going to make money over the coming weeks, months and, dare I say it, years, which makes me feel anxious, and the more anxiety I feel the less able I feel to be creative and entrepreneurial. It is a vicious circle. I have always let my career develop somewhat organically, not thinking too far into the future, and I have been lucky enough that the quality of my writing and performance has propelled me in a direction that has enabled me to make a living. No more, apparently.

And of course I feel scared that people are becoming ill and dying. I am scared for my grandparents and mother-in-law. I can see society changing, and I have never felt comfortable with change. I can also see society refusing to change, which makes me angry too. I feel that the current situation is bringing out both the best and the worst in people. From the nurse working a twenty-hour shift to Karen and Susan stockpiling hand-sanitizer; from people volunteering to deliver shopping to elderly neighbours to morons in collective denial and arrogance gathering in pubs, restaurants and parks. I am angry that people are not following the government's advice, and I am angry that the government, up until very recently, have not been providing particularly clear directives in the first place. And it's not like I'm a doctor, nurse, delivery driver or shop worker. I don't do anything nearly as productive or useful. There is nowhere for this anger to go other than into what you are now reading, and the more anger goes into it the less coherence, elegance and profundity emerges, which makes me feel even more angry. Another vicious circle.

With all this in mind, I have heard a lot about the impact of Coronavirus on people with pre-existing health problems. What I have seen much less of is discussion about its impact on people with pre-existing mental health problems. The aforementioned anxiety and anger are to a large extent natural corollaries of the current situation, but they also bespeak my particular pre-existing mental health concerns. In addition to this, the nature of my OCD, with which I have been suffering intermittently for the last few years, is that it latches onto entirely irrational worries. This hasn't gone away: what has happened is that the real and the unreal, the rational and the irrational, the appropriate and the inappropriate, has blended together and churns in my mind like streaks of coloured paint swirling around in choppy water. One minute I find myself worrying about something understandable (like where the mortgage money is going to come from, or whether there will even be a job to go back to once this is over), the next I find myself ruminating on something really esoteric and weird. And it just keeps oscillating and swirling. I always thought that my OCD was something like a defence mechanism, stopping me worrying about real-life concerns. I had this fantasy that, were something of truly monumental global significance to really happen, I would be snapped out of my OCD. Not so. One does not cancel out the other; the sum total of anxiety simply increases, and the circles get ever more vicious.

So far so self-indulgent. However, in amongst all the anxiety I do sense a subtle yet very real shift, somewhere deep inside me. The famous Rabbi, Abraham Joshua Heschel, states, "when I was young, I used to admire intelligent people; as I grow older I admire kind people." This quotation captures something of what I have in mind. I don't know if it was inculcated in me or if it just simply happened, but I grew up viewing intelligence as the apotheosis of all human attributes (I just used the words 'inculcated' and 'apotheosis' - go figure). I also grew up thinking that the more high-status one's job, the more worthwhile that person somehow was. I don't think this was a conscious thought, but it was always latent within me. What is going on now has forced me to change perspective. We are seeing small acts of kindness every day, acts which make a real difference to human lives and which do not depend in any way on high levels of intelligence or formal education. We are also seeing how society cannot function without those who do the jobs that people such as me tend to take totally for granted, and usually not even notice. We are seeing that shop workers, delivery drivers, mechanics and mail workers keep our lives afloat and therefore deserve far more credit (and no doubt money) than we usually give them. Just one of these people is worth more than twenty stockbrokers or hedge fund managers. Maybe all this is not news to anyone else, and I suppose I always knew it in an abstract sort of way, but now is the first time I am really experiencing it first hand. We are basically seeing that what counts is not status or Intelligence Quotient; it is dedication, determination and Kindness Quotient.

Perhaps in time I will come to see this realisation as an unexpected gift bestowed on me by the pandemic.

Tuesday, 17 March 2020


When I Get to be a Chef - by Yaniv, Year 8
When I get to be a chef
I’m going to create a dish
Of happiness and tastiness
And watch people enjoy it
There will be meats and rice
Chicken and potatoes
And the sweet desserts will
Be the talk of the town
And once it is eaten
Smiles will arise on my customers faces
Talk will emerge
Of the greatest restaurant
and I will make dishes
For the best and most powerful people
I will open a place
For all to eat
All who go will be happy and full
All because I made it
When I am going to be a chef
I’ll make the world see
What cooking for you means to me
And when it is all over
When I am to weak
to carry on
I will remember the wonders of cooking
How I changed the world
And with my children
And my children’s children
They will carry on
And happiness will emerge again
But not until
I become a chef.

The poem above was inspired by Langston Hughes's poem 'Daybreak in Alabama'. The writing idea that followed was simple: think of something you'd like to be (it could be an occupation, or it could be weird and fantastical like a zombie or unicorn), and describe would you would do if you were that thing. Here are some previous examples of students' efforts.

Monday, 16 March 2020


Come to a place full of wonder and light
and sparkling stories to brighten your night;
of tales and fables and beautiful beams
that flash in your mind and set fire to your dreams. 

Come to a place full of horror and dread,
of demons and dragons that howl in your head;
of terrible tigers with blood-spattered claws
and lives that are shattered in famines and wars. 

Come to a place full of dates, facts and figures
and jokes that will have you in stitches and sniggers;
a place you can stroll through the meadows of history,
scaling the sides of the mountain of mystery. 

Come to a place that can sate your addiction
to rollicking rhymes and to fabulous fiction;
a place you can travel through time at your leisure:
a library of pages to savor and treasure.

Sunday, 15 March 2020


When I do one-off visits to schools, my aim during workshops is usually for each individual child to have written the first draft of their very own poem. I say 'first draft' because to complete a poem usually takes a lot of time - sometimes several days! I am particularly gratified when teachers get in touch to say their class has continued working on their poems after my visit, which is exactly what happened when I visited Castlewood Primary School recently. I am delighted to be able to share some poems that were sent to me after my visit. It is clear that the pupils worked very hard on their poems, as you will be able to see below!

Wednesday, 11 March 2020


You can give her a ball
or a small fluffy toy;
you can hand her a plaything
for her to enjoy; 
you can come home all laden
with ramps, posts and blocks,
but all that she’ll want
is a plain cardboard box. 

You can go to the pet shop
and fritter your dosh
on fancy contraptions
that seem rather posh;
you can hope that your purchases
will entertain her,
but all that she’ll want
is the cardboard container. 

You can have lots of love
and the best of intentions
and spend all your time
coming up with inventions,
but all that you do
she will deem unacceptable:
all that she’ll crave
is the cardboard receptacle.

So listen in closely
and heed my advice:
no matter your gift
and no matter how nice,
the only thing certain
is this paradox:
all that she’ll want
is the damn cardboard BOX!